• On The Course

Taking on the Player test

Alex Livie July 25, 2012
Water is a threat all the way down the 18th on the Parkland Course © Getty Images
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Sicily is a destination we had not considered for a golfing break, but it is making giant strides and ESPN took the opportunity to put the much vaunted Donnafugata Golf Resort & Spa through its paces.

When pitted against the tried and tested sun-soaked venues of Spain and Portugal, the competition is stiff but quantity does not always translate to quality and Sicily can offer high-class options - with Donnafugata, which has 36 holes - the Northern Parkland Course and Southern Links Course - making it on to the European Tour roster in 2011.

Gary Player, one of the greatest names in golf, was the man behind the Parkland track which meanders through olive groves. Player, a winner of nine major titles, has forged a reputation for excellence in the course design game. The Parkland Course does not disappoint, as the beautiful setting complements the quality of the track. The challenges of water and sand are in play on many holes, with the tee shot on 16 a spectacular sight.

For those who like to marry a little culture with their sport, an archaeological site sits next to the sixth hole, where you can visit a Greek necropolis of the sixth century BC. "I love history, and you really feel the heritage of this remarkable part of Italy as you play," Player said of his course. "And we have achieved something that doesn't often happen…..there is not a marginal hole on the course….all eighteen holes are very, very good, very playable, and very natural."

Some closing holes can disappoint relative to what has gone before, but the 18th on the Parkland Course does not. A dogleg to the left from an elevated tee requires a precision drive as anything left will be swallowed by the lake that hugs the length of the fairway and eats into the green. Water is in play on the closing three holes and keeping your card intact coming home is a real achievement.

Donnafugata kept things local with the Links Course, enlisting the services of Italian designer Franco Piras. Although in the same complex, the courses are vastly different. The track sits between two nature reserves, while the Mediterranean Sea is visible on the horizon.

Colin Montgomerie was in the field in the 2011 Sicilian Open © Getty Images
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The Links track stretches out to some 7200 yards from the tips and the challenge that awaits is made clear on the first tee, with a tight fairway guarded by water on the left and pot bunkers on the right.

The challenges continue throughout, with large greens protected by well placed bunkers and run-off areas. The eighth is guarded neither by bunkers nor a run-off area. But it is protected by water on three sides. Stepping on to the eighth tee, you are greeted with a 400-yard downhill par four. It is a glorious hole as you have a range of options. The sensible play from the tee is to knock the ball down the left-hand side of the fairway, but this leaves a long second over water. The bolder players can attempt to cut off rough that eats in on the right, which will leave a second shot straight down the heart of the green. But that shot comes with risk, namely a wild bit of rough on the right that will gobble your ball and the fear of running through into water if you drift too far to the left.

The 14th is another risk-reward tee shot, which gives players the option of powering a drive over a lake - leaving a short iron into the green or laying up and either playing the par four as a par five or going with a long iron into a green guarded by water and sand.

If you play sensibly and keep the ball in play, the Links Course allows you to score but if you do not treat it with respect big numbers can be racked up.

Golf is the centrepiece of the Donnafugata resort, but the complex and surrounding region have much to offer, with a fitness centre, spa, indoor and outdoor pool and two beaches, while the baroque town of Ragusa, which has UNESCO world heritage status, is a short drive away for those who are golfed out and fancy a slice of history.

Donnafugata Golf Resort and Spa
Contrada Piombo
97100 Ragusa
P.IVA 05198410820 +39 0932 914 200

Parkland Course
6530 metres
Par 72
€150 (€50 for hotel residents)

Links Course
6674 metres
Par 72
€150 (€50 for hotel residents)

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Alex Livie was editor of ESPN.co.uk